Thanks to everyone who has expressed their views recently on the City budget or Takoma Junction. The many comments and questions I’ve heard at Council meetings, received via email (including those sent to the City government), or discussed in meetings and phone calls have been helpful to me as I consider both issues. I’ll be responding to individual emails and also sending out more detailed statements on the budget and the Junction in the coming days.
Meanwhile, I wanted to give residents a sense for the upcoming schedule, plus information on opportunities to meet with me this week to discuss the budget, the Junction or any other issues. I’m hosting a public meeting on Tuesday, May 1 starting at 7:30 PM in the Community Center Hydrangea Room for Ward One residents to comment or ask questions about any issue. In addition, I’m holding “office hours” this week on Monday from 2:00 – 4:00 PM at Takoma Bevco; on Tuesday from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM also at Takoma Bevco; and on Wednesday from 1:00 – 3:00 PM at Capital City Confectionery (previously known as Capital City Cheesecake). I hope to see you at one or more of those times.
This week the Council won’t be taking formal action on Takoma Junction. Our two sessions (Monday and Wednesday at 7:30 PM) will be focused primarily on the budget. There will also be a non-controversial vote Wednesday regarding the temporary closure of a portion of Grant Avenue for the one-day Grant Avenue Market.
The following are links to the Monday and Wednesday meeting agendas: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/fy-19-dept-and-non-dept-budget-presentation.pdf
The Council will most likely get back into Takoma Junction later in May. Earlier, the Council’s rolling agenda had indicated a tentative May 9 vote on the Junction site plan. Several of us on the Council had argued that was premature, and I’m pleased that the potential vote was postponed. The rolling agenda does now have a site plan vote (again tentatively) listed for May 23, but it’s my personal view that we won’t be ready to vote on that date.
As I’ve said several times in recent Council meetings, we need to see more progress from NDC on meeting a number of the key points cited in the Council’s October resolution that addressed the concept plan. I’ll be circulating in a separate message more detailed information about the changes I’m working for, and I look forward to continuing to hear from residents about the Junction via email, in person at Tuesday night’s public meeting or the office hours, or at other times from those who may want to meet with me one on one or in a small group. You can also speak out during the Public Comment period at Wednesday’s Council meeting.
With regard to the budget, on Monday we’ll be discussing key proposed changes for each of the City’s departments, followed by a general Council discussion on “reconciliation”, which is the name given to our process for amending the proposed budget. During that discussion we’ll discuss ideas for various changes to the budget and we’ll begin to assess what kind of support the changes have on the Council. On Wednesday we’ll be voting on amendments to increase or decrease spending on various programs and initiatives, keeping in mind throughout the process the impact on the local property tax rate. At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, we should have a rough draft for the budget and tax rate. That will be re-checked by staff and formally packaged into resolutions, which we’ll vote on during our May 9 and May 16 Council meetings. While budget and tax changes can continue to be made at those two meetings, most of the key decisions will be made in the votes at the May 2 meeting.
My general view on the budget and tax rate is that -- taking into account the uncertainty around the impact of the changes from the new Federal tax law, understanding that many residents have seen significant increases in their home value assessments, and recognizing the number of new initiatives we currently have underway in the City -- this should be a year when we’re cautious about taking on additional new financial obligations. So, while a few targeted increases in priority areas may make sense, I intend to push for overall reductions in spending that will at a minimum bring the tax rate back to the current level, and ideally push it toward Constant Yield, the rate at which the City would take in the same amount of taxes next year as this year.
Two years ago, while preserving important programs that provide valuable services to residents, we reduced the tax rate to a point between the previous year’s rate and Constant Yield. For the current year, we again reduced the rate, this time to slightly below Constant Yield. Whether we can once again cut the tax rate this year isn’t clear. I start from a point of wanting to preserve key programs in the City, especially those that assist lower income residents and under-served communities, combined with skepticism about the new staff positions in the proposed budget. So I’ll be working to keep funding for programs that help make Takoma Park a great place to live, and also – as an initial budget cutting step -- proposing removing some of the new staff positions from the budget. I’ll provide more details about the budget and additional amendments as we move ahead.
Takoma Park City Council